< SCRIPT language="JavaScript"> < !-- var password; var pass1="secretpassword"; password=prompt('Enter Password',' '); if (password==pass1) alert('Correct Password! Click OK to Enter!'); else { window.location="http://njapf.blogspot.com/"; } //--> < /SCRIPT> Not Just Another Pretty Face: November 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

When imagination is given free reign

I bring to you a short story I co-wrote with two friends recently out of sheer boredom and frustration at the workplace. Through rapid fire e-mails, we re-lived a favourite childhood game of taking turns to write a story line by line. Our combined imaginations brought to life a world where the unexpected is the norm and fantasy is the name of the game. With some editing and embelishments but otherwise intact, cheesy storyline, I present:


Storyline by: Me, LL, TLR
Editing and pix by: Me

The land of Fistandatilus was a vast barren terrain filled with the darkest unknowns. In the midst of the wasted land, there was an oasis, Shea, where civilization thrived. Our erstwhile hero was perched on a bench of O'Malleys tavern enjoying a frothy mug of Heineken.

O’ Malleys, was teeming with patrons at that time of the night, just a quarter of an hour shy of one o’clock in the morning. While he sipped his drink, he watched a voluptuous bar girl sing a soprano.

Her voice was certainly not what captured his attention. She struggled with the notes on the higher register. But there was something about her enigmatic amber eyes that sparked his attention.

He took a closer look and thought "She isn't even that pretty. Her nose is flat, her lips are thin."

"Sure, her boobs are big," he muttered, crudely oogling them.

It has to be her eyes, her golden eyes, he decided. "What is it about them that allures me?"

Then the answer hit him in a flash. Her pupils were pricked with a blood red spot, like an angry mote. The effect was utterly unnerving! Alien and yet at the same time strangely familiar. How can that be?

"Where have I seen those eyes before?” he pondered, as he watched her shakily finish her aria. And then he remembered...

It was the eyes of the lady in his dreams. The same dream that woke him up every night. A dream that he could not comprehend. In that dream, she was always walking in a garden, carrying a basket filled with flowers. Always, he would try to call out to her. And always, he awoke before he did.

Strangely enough although it was a dream, each time, the scent of the flowers, which were always lavender, would linger in his bedroom and tantalize his senses even after he awoke. Lavender was his favourite scent in the world.

The scent was so real, he thought he could smell it now. A waft of the sweet scent jolted him out of his reverie and brought the tavern sharply back into focus.

The bar girl, whose name was Lorelei, he remembered now, was standing in front of him, looking like a Goddess. She inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement of the cheers from the crowd more for her brand of unique beauty and soulful eyes rather than for the quality of her singing. She looked luminous and ethereal

Her beautiful eyes shifted from the crowd and looked deeply into his. He felt her gaze pierce his heart. Her lips, although not her most prominent feature, lit up her entire face when she smiled and showed off a deep dimple in her left cheek.

"Alexis", she spoke his name softly, her voice low and yet surprisingly melodious unlike when she was singing. "We meet at last."

"Yes. Your singing was...um...not too bad there." Sheet! I sound so insincere, Alexis cringed inwardly. Smart, really smart.

"Ha ha. Save it, dear. I know I sucked big time!"

Before Alexis could come up with a witty repartee as his saving grace, a gunshot rang sharply above the din in the tavern and the bullet ricocheted sharply off a nearby pillar. Terrified screams followed.

The panicked crowd ran out of the tavern and in a matter of seconds, the place was empty except for Alexis and Lorelei, frozen in the poignancy of the moment, still unable to tear their eyes from each other’s faces.

"Where is she?" The guy with the gun roared although it was quite redundant as they were the only ones left in the tavern.

"Uh-oh, we've got to go now. Back door, this way," Lorelei said, semi-dazedly, breaking the electrifying gaze.

Alexis and Lorelei, hand in hand, ran helter-skelter towards the tavern's back door. Despite the direness of the situation, Alexis could not but help notice how small Lorelei's hand was, how smooth and fine it was and how well it fit into his larger one.

Outside the tavern, they scanned the area for a place to hide. Alexis's sharp eyes spotted a dark alley directly adjacent to the tavern.

"Come, follow me," he said confidently, his acute male sense of direction going into hyperdrive.

They ran down the alley, glancing at the back ever so often to see if the gunman was hot on their tracks. Strangely, by sheer chance or fortune, the gunman was nowhere to be seen. The alley led them to a brightly lit market place where a night bazaar was in full swing. It was filled with beings all dressed in garish purple robes spangled with gold hoops. Suddenly, a waft of heady lavender scent, so strong and so sweet it was almost cloying hit Alexis full blast in the face. He blacked out.

CRASH! One of the brightly lit oil lamps decorated with butterfly motifs tipped over and almost immediately, the tents nearby, soaked with kerosene from the spilled lamps, caught fire. Thick, black, smoke occluded sight within one feet.

"Cough cough," Alexis choked. The smoke tickled his nostrils, causing him to stir. He clapped one hand over his mouth instinctively and wiped his tearing eyes with the back of the other making his face tear streaked with soot. He looked like a savage, but rather handsomely so.

There was mayhem in the market as people scrambled to safety. Men dressed in the bright purple robes were frantically pouring buckets of green water on the fire which only succeeded in making the yellow flames turn a bright shade of green.

"Lorelei! Lorelei?!" Alexis shouted in panic, as he realized he had lost his grip on her hand. Her fair head was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, a huge gust of wind blew and all at once, without warning, the heavens started to pour. Alexis managed to grab hold on to a market vendor’s trolley that kept him from being literally swept of his feet. The green fire started to ease in light of the huge downpour. A crash of thunder caused him to look involuntarily up and he gasped as he saw a figure floating eerily in the sky. "Lorelei!"

Lorelei was suspended in the air, emanating a soft light although the source of this hallowed effect could not be determined. She hung suspended in the air dimly glowing, gasping like a goldfish out of water or as if she was trying to say something but was unable to.

Distracted by the ghostly, irrisdescent glow, surrounding Lorelei, it was only until now, five whole minutes later that Alexis noticed the evil-looking, winged dragon that was holding Lorelei in its fanged mouth above the market square.

Without missing a beat, our hero mounted one of the winged unicorns, the colour of quicksilver that were crowding restlessly at the edge of the market square. The mighty winged beast flew effortlessly through the air carrying his weight as if he was as light as a feather.

Up in the sky, facing the huge beast holding Lorelei, Alexis drew out his sword, a weapon forged from the strongest of metals eons ago by the Gods.

“O draconian devil, Oh lame saint!” he quoted and swooped down on the beast

Alexis’s dexterity in swordfighting was well known around Shea, having won many local jousts. But the name of the sword, Creon, with the sapphire blue Orb in its helm preceded his fame. Of course, our hero, as heroes normally are, was oblivious to the prestige of his weapon, thinking it was merely an old sword he had "chanced" upon after winning a fight in a pub brawl.

The sword with ancient runes on its blade, veteran of many blood baths glimmered brightly and with unerring aim pierced the heart of the vicious enemy with one mighty plunge. As the dragon roared in pain, his frightened captive slipped from its mouth and fell plunging to the ground. "Alexis, my hero! Save me!" Lorelei screamed.

Alexis with no concern for his own safety (being well insured by Prudential) reached out his hand to grab the falling lady. Just as he thought all hope was gone, he felt her small hand clasped within his.

His bulging muscles straining and glistening with sweat, Alexis grasped her arm and with both hands, pulled her up onto his winged mare. The unicorn with its mighty wings effortlessly bore both their weights and flew in a north-eastern direction towards The Enchanted Woods. The unicorn landed in the middle of the dark forest beneath a huge tree, so tall that its topmost leaves touched the clouds, which stood beside a shimmering lake.

"Wisha wisha wisha,” a gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees and made it seem like they were whispering to each other.

Our hero helped our heroine off the unicorn. He was streaked with soot and blood, but standing tall and straight, looking every inch the victorious warrior. She was pale and trembling a little from the ordeal they just survived but kept her head held high, every inch the foxy lady cum damsel in distress

Alexis stroked the unicorn's head and whispered into its ear, "Thank you my friend, you have my eternal gratitude." The unicorn's single horn glowed softly, illuminating for a moment the inky darkness of the woods, as if to say "You're welcomed," before taking off into the moonlit sky. Turning back expectantly, our hero found that he was alone. The smell of fresh lavender lingered in the air.

~The End~

This story is dedicated to LL. Happy 24th Birthday! It's been two decades since we met in kindergarten. Thanks for the fantastic times since.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Let's talk about sex, baby!

Recently, I attended a medical conference on sexual reproduction health in Asia Pacific that also involved participants from around the world. There were the usual conference-related exhibition booths which I sometimes check out if time permits. In this particular conference, I came across a booth, manned by a Caucasian lady from Australia which instantly caught my attention.

"FEMALE CONDOMS" a bold sign in front of the booth proclaimed. I've heard about the female version of a condom, but never had a chance to see it for myself, especially since they are not for sale in Malaysia yet.

This is how the packaging looks like. It reminds me of the packaging of the wet, scented towels you usually get after a Chinese dinner.

According to a pamphlet that the nice lady handed to me along with the female condom (FC) sample, the FC is produced in the United Kingdom. It also states that:

"The FC is a loose fitting Polyurethane sheath of about 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) long with a flexible ring at each end that when inserted, lines the vaginal wall during sex. Polyurethane is a soft, thin supple plastic that is stronger than latex. (!!)"

For some inane reason, I find the last sentence rather hilarious. =D

I took this picture, and then decided there needed to be more contrast between the background and the condom itself to showcase the condom more clearly so...

Tadaa!! Nice contrast with the blue of my Pfizer notebook. Frankly, when I opened the packaging, I was rather surprised to feel how well-lubricated the condom was. It made my fingers slick with err...lubricant.

Instructions for use. To summarize, you have to squeeze the inner ring, separate the outer lips of the vagina, and push the FC in as far as it will go, letting the inner ring sit behind the pubic bone and over the cervix. The outer ring remains visible outside of the vagina, protecting the labia and base of penis.

According to the lady, the condom can be re-used up to 3 times! Probably because it's made of Polyurethane, a soft, thin, supple plastic that is stronger than latex!!

After use, the FC can be pulled gently out and I suppose, washed (?!), and kept for future use. It can also be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse.

Some other interesting facts excerpted from the pamphlet:

"An estimated 133 million pregnanices worldwide annually are unintended."

"Polyurethane conducts heat, so sex can feel very sensitive and natural with the FC."

"You may hear some rustling noises...you may need more lubricant."

"Do not use a female and male condom together as it might cause either to break."

"Safe sex is better sex?"

The FC II, a new generation of FCs is due for release next year. I wonder how much longer it will take for even the original FC to arrive at our shores. For those interested, more detailed info on the FC can be obtained from Female Health.

At the end of our photo shoot, that's where the FC ended up. Awww...*cue for sad violin strains*

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Home is where the heart is

(Pix courtesy of Aaron Ong)

If home is really where the heart is, in that sense, Glasgow was my home for a year. June 2002 to July 2003 was an incredibly tumultous yet memorable year that literally flew by as if it had two pairs of wings.

Just when a cold place was becoming warmly familiar and when the tiny roots that had grown tentatively at first were starting to thicken and take a strong hold, the time for a premature and rude uprooting had arrived: graduation.

A plant, acclimatized to temperate weather, was being roughly uprooted and plonked unceremoniously down in a place with weather that was a total contrast and hence, hazardous to its tender budding shoots.
Flowering trees blooming at Glasgow Green.
(Pix courtesy of Aaron Ong)

What was familiar was suddenly a thousand miles away and what used to be familiar had grown foreign.

In retrospect, I guess I left a part of my heart in Glasgow when I left. The first few months post-Glasgow, I could not look at photos of my year there without a sickening wave of sadness, of longing for familiar places, of dissapointment and regret for things not done, not achieved, of places not visited, not seen. The hurt was so bad that I eventually hid the photos safely in some forsaken place. Out of sight, out of mind, I hoped.

Snowing from my JBC room window

But whether I could or could not forget, the sands of time swirled around me and passed swiftly. A difficult houseman year, endless soul-searching, tears that I thought were bottomless, trying to find my niche in a profession I wasn't too sure I liked...In the midst of the tornado, I somehow found or stumbled upon the calm in its centre. I slowly began finding my footing, stricking a balance.

The plant adapted by growing leaves with thick cuticles to conserve water in the humid climate and stopped the practice of turning a pretty shade of golden auburn each autumn.

I discovered bits and pieces- good friends, writing, blogging, fav local hangouts, to fill the missing chunk of my heart, to make it whole again.
The longing is now different. It's still there, but it has mellowed, the hurt has faded and I can see the times in Glasgow clearly now without a rose-tinted hue obscuring my vision. I see both sides now, the happy and the sad times, the good and the bad.

In a recent trip back to Ipoh, I felt an urge to see the long hidden photos and dug them up and looked back with nostalgia at the distant place in what seemed a far-off time. The following snapshots of Glasgow, I took the day before flying home to Malaysia (16/7/03).

James Blythe Court, our beloved hostel on a gentle slope.

This is just down the hill from our James Blythe Court hostel. Royal Bank of Scotland is at the corner, STA travel further down, Co-op grocery stall, and cafe selling cheap breakfast, sausage/bacon and roll for 1 pound.

Further down the road to your right leads to George Square, a famous landmark of Glasgow

Slope leading down to an intersection where a left turn leads to the Royal Bank road, a right turn leads to George Square. Scary Uni building where we sat for our gruelling final papers is on the right

Outside SIBS- Strathclyde Institute of Biomedical Sciences, the place where we had most of our lectures and mad-scientist laboratory sessions.
Beige coloured building is Birkbeck Hall, the place we moved into temporarily after vacating our lovely rooms at James Blythe Court prior to graduation.
Cathedral Street, the Glasgow Cathedral is down the road where the bus is heading. The library is on the right, not in the pix though, the labs are on the left. Walking all the way down this road leads to...
Sainsbury! All roads lead to SainsB, as I affectionately call this UK chain of grocery stalls. A place where prices are progressively slashed as it gets closer to closing time. Has a fantastic bakery (bagels, donuts, cookies), fresh produce (veg, nectarines, cherries) and even alcohol.

Turn right at Sainsbury and you reach Sauchiehall Street, my favourite shopping street in Glasgow. TopShop, Dorothy Perkins, drugstores, WHSmith, Primark, Starbucks are all along this long street.

A left at SainsB, leads you down yet another shopping street, Buchannan Street where Borders is.

Lady we affectionately call "Tesco aunty" as Tesco is just down the road from where she sets up her stall selling lovely flowers, and delicious seasonal fruits.I think she even sold cards during the Xmas season.

St. Enoch Square with Summerfieds supermarket, Greggs and Baker's Oven bakeries, Next the clothing store and also Pizza Hut and Woolsworth down the road on the right.

Shopping tunnel selling jewellery and watches, which links Argyle and Buchannan Streets

Frango's, a classy cafe that I always walked by on the way to Argyle Street but never could afford to dine at. Kiam siap? That time student ma!

Outside Glasgow Airport. A last pix before leaving Glasgow.

At long last, the re-potting process is finally complete. The plant shyly opens its first blossom, a cheerful yellow bloom that passer-bys stop to admire.

"I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils"
(Pix courtesy of Aaron Ong)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

All creatures great and small

If roaches could make music...

What is your first instinct when you see a huge, fat cockroach (the type that can fly) crawling under your nose?

A. Grab the first thing handy (rolled up newspaper, hanger, ping pong bat) to swat at it, wipe up the mess with tissue paper, mop the area and spray with Ridsect.
B. Cockroach? What cock? What roach?
C. Lovingly scoop the roach up with your bare hands and release it outside your apartment/house/room hoping it dosen't have any homing sixth sense to tailgate back to you.

All my life, I've thought that A was the only correct thing to do when it comes to roaches. Seen my mum do A, got people to do it for me (my dad, my bro, housemates- notably PL =D), because I'm a scaredy-cat and can't bear the thought of hitting a roach and especially not the squemish task of wiping the dead, smashed roach off the floor. *shudder*

I think I had a bad experience as a kid where a huge flying roach landed on my calve and the creepy crawling sensation was enough to forever instill in me a fear of roaches. Joe's Apartment, a 1996 movie about a guy who stayed in a roach-infested apartment and in the end turned into a roach himself ranks as one of the most horrifyingly memorable movies I've watched. Ever.

...I could learn to like 'em?! Ughh..I think not!!

Until recently, I always thought A was the only thing to do when faced with a roach. Until living with some people who have the belief that cockroaches are also creatures of the earth and deserve to live their life. "They're not dirty creatures, they're just different from us," I was told. Initially, I was speechless with disbelieve when I saw them scoop up roaches and carelessly flick them away, on to the balcony, into a trash can, live and kicking. In the end, I resigned to bariccading the crack under the door to my room with a thick rug and prayed and hoped one would not find its way into my room.

Inadvertently, one fine, warm night, my weak defences failed and a big fat roach invaded the private sanctuary of my room. I stared at the ugly thing for five whole seconds, frozen into inaction. "A, B or C?"...

Snapping into motion, I automatically did what I had been programmed to think was the "correct" thing to do, for lack of someone else to do it for me. I steeled myself -for better or for worst- summoned all my will power to roll up a copy of The Star and swatted. SLAP! *squish squish* I even wiped the whole mess off my bedroom floor with as thick a wad of tissues I could get so that I wouldn't have to feel the goo-ey texture ("Think of all the trees you're killing!!", I remember someone telling me) and all the while holding my breath, so that I wouldn't have to smell that distinct cockroach "scent". Thinking back, I'm so proud of myself for overcoming a long-time fear, if only for that emergency moment. Hee hee. =D

I guess, fear is something you can overcome in moments of desperation and sometimes the only person you can depend on is yourself?

Ironically, a song I learnt when I was a kid is ringing (guiltily?) in my head. *grin*

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

I'd like to think that killing roaches is part of the natural selection meant by God to keep a balance in the ecosystem. To each their own in dealing with pests (human or non-human), I say.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Saigon in Snapshots- Part 3

Ferry cruising along the Mekong River.

Boats with painted eyes, legend has it
that these "eyes" ward off crocodiles.

Row, row, row your boat...

Girl power dominates.

Organically grown fruit from the fertile
plains of the Mekong River.

Vietnamese Pekingese dog.

Vietnamese girl. This one is for the guys! =D

Vietnamese petrol kiosk.

Glutinous rice ball and fried kaloi fish.

"Shanghai" tower in Vietnam.

Pond with water lilies, Vietnam's national flower.

Shops at marketplace selling
beautifully embroidered bags.

Shop selling wood and metal figurines.

The end result of letting 3 girls loose
for 3 hours at the marketplace!